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Millions of dieters have decided to turn back the clock on their food choices -- to about 40,000 BC. Most followers of paleo diets, also known as cave man diets, refuse to eat any food that cannot be identified as its plant or animal diet, due to their conviction that human genes determine which foods are good for us and the human gene pool hasn't changed significantly since the Ice Age.
But are the basic ideas behind paleo diets grounded in good scientific evidence?
Paleo Diets Really Do Work
Hundreds of thousands or even millions of paleo diet devotees have experienced real success with their diet plans that eschew modern food. They have lost weight. They have overcome allergies and indigestion and depression and brain fog. They have found new ways to enjoy simple food.
And it's hard to stick to the no-starch, no-sweets, no-dairy prescriptions that come with most paleo-inspired diet plans.
Paleo Diets Don't Really Focus on Paleolithic Foods
Some paleo dieters express a fondness for meat, especially bacon. But as far as we know, Oscar Meyer wasn't peddling cellophane-wrapped packages of the tasty meat treat in cave people times.
Some paleo dieters express a fondness for vegetables, noting that archaeologist have found that early humans living on Ice Age savannas ate as many as 300 different species of plants on an occasional basis. But not a single one of those plants is available in the supermarket.
The simple fact is, we can't eat like our paleolithic ancestors. As few as 2,000 people inhabited the entire earth at various points in the last 300,000 years. There are not enough readily available grubs and cattail tubers to go around. Mastodons are extinct. We have to eat modern foods.
Sticking to the Paleo Diet Is a Challenge
And even advocates of paleo dieting don't really try to stick to their plan. Dr. Loren Cordain advises that up to 15% of meals, about one meal every other day, can be modern foods. Maybe ancient time travelers brought cave men Cheetos and Happy Meals, so they developed just enough genes for us to be able to eat those foods every other day in the modern era.
Or maybe the issue is that all that meat and salad gets a little old, and people crave variety. But it's possible to follow sensible, paleo-inspired diet principles and eat healthy, well-rounded, inexpensive, easy-to-prepare tasty health meals.